Build Upper-Back Strength with These 5 Exercises

Regardless of your chosen sport, a strong upper back will give you an advantage over the competition.

Having adequate upper-back strength is essential for pain-free movement in everyday life and performance on the field. Having a strong upper back will help you keep great posture throughout the day and help athletes on the field. If you participate in a sport where you throw anything you NEED to train your upper body in a variety of way, if you participate in a contact sport, the stronger the upper-back muscles (and neck) muscles are the more resistant to big hits and concussions you can be, you get the idea. The upper back is important no matter the age or sport. Here are some of the best ways you can train it.

Half-Kneeling Facepull

I have my clients perform these with a rope attachment and bands, but you can do these with a cable or bands. Set up the band slightly above eye level when you are kneeling on the ground. Place one foot in front of you and one behind in a lunge position. Place your back knee on the ground and keep your chest up tall; this is a half-kneeling position. Hold the rope attachment in front of you with arms fully extended. Keeping your upper-body from leaning back, pull your hands back toward your chin, spreading your arms apart as you pull so the hands end up outside the chin. Squeeze the upper back tight, reverse the motion and repeat.

Suspension W

W's are one of my favorite exercises to train the upper back, and the great thing is almost anyone can do them no matter the fitness level. A combination between a Facepull and external rotation, it's a surefire way to hit muscles of the rotator cuff and non-rotator cuff muscles of the upper back.

Start with arms outstretched in front of you holding onto the handles, with your body straight. Start the movement by pulling the hands to the face with palms down at chin level. As your hands reach your chin, externally rotate the arm, so the palms are facing away from your body keeping the elbows up. Reverse the motion and repeat.

Chest-Supported Row

Set up an incline bench and grab two dumbbells or kettlebells. Lie down on the bench so your chest is on the bench and your head is just above. While keeping your chest on the bench row the bells up toward your chest, squeeze the upper back tight, reverse the motion and repeat. Pull your elbows toward your hips and only to a level even with the back, not past.

Chest-Supported I,Y,T

Set up an incline bench just as above and hold two 5- or 10-pound weights in your hands; no need to go heavy. Start by raising your arms straight in front of you, just like the letter I. Return to the bottom and raise your arms again, this time going slightly wider in a Y shape. Lower the weights and raise them again, this time wider yet, raising straight to the sides. Squeeze the upper back tight on each rep and repeat.

Inverted Row

Set a barbell up in the rack somewhere between mid-thigh and hip level depending on the length of your arms. Lie underneath the bar with your chest directly under the bar, reach up and grab the bar with palms facing toward your feet. Pull your chest up to the bar, pause for one second and lower under control until your arms are straight again. Keep your body flat and your head in a neutral position the entire time.


The Pull-Up is one of the basic, but effective movements many people often do incorrectly. A correct Pull-Up starts with grabbing the bar with palms facing away from you, outside of the shoulders. During the Pull-Up keep the abs and glutes squeezed tight the whole time—raise your feet in front of you just slightly. This will help you keep a good strong position the entire time. Pull yourself up, keep your eyes straight ahead, making sure not to lift your chin up high. Continue pulling until your chest reaches the bar and reverse the motion controlling the way down until you reach full extension of the arms. If done correctly Pull-Ups will be much tougher than the usual swinging and kipping your way up to the bar taking advantage of momentum. Quality over quantity.

Use these five upper-back exercises regularly in conjunction with the main compound movements and you will find your upper back growing and getting stronger each week. For more free fitness content check out my social media channels here and here! Chase it!